Have you flipped through a vocabulary book, hoping that one day you will memorize all those words?
If you have done this before but didn’t find so useful, then here is another method you might want to try.
The method that I have tested and worked with many of my students, is this:
Create example sentences using the words you are learning.
It sounds easy and you might have done this already, but let me elaborate to make sure you are not doing the wrong way. You do not want to waste your time making sentences only to forget the meaning of the word at the end of your study session.
The Wrong Way
First, let me show you the wrong way. Then, I will show you how to create your sentences the right wayso that you are more likely to retain the words in your memory. Read on.
Let’s say you are learning the word “resign” (which means to leave a job). You may come up with a sentence like this.
“I’m sorry, but I must resign.”
Not a bad start, but if you looked at this sentence later, would you be able to understand exactly what the word meant? The answer is no. You could have easily replaced the word “resign” with a word like “vomit”. The sentence is grammatically correct, but does it help you understand the meaning of the word?. There isn’t enough context in this sentence to make any sound judgment about the meaning of the word. Scratch this sentence.
A Better Way
What you need to do, is to think further and take an extra step to create a better example sentence, so that there is no confusion when you look at it later. Let’s take a look at this example sentence.
“President Nixon resigned from the office following the Watergate scandal.”
This sentence has clue words to hint at the meaning of the word “resign”. The word from the office shows that there has been a change in Nixon’s social status, and the word following shows when it happened. If you knew the US history, then this sentence is a no-brainer. However, if you didn’t care much about the world news, then what happened to Nixon won’t intrigue you. There is a much better way to register a word to your vocabulary arsenal.
The Best Way
The best way to make a word stick is to associate them with what you already know, and to things that you personally care about.
You are likely to remember something, if it’s relevant to you. We remember what we care, and we forget or ignore anything that’s irrelevant to us. We are more likely to remember people whom we see more often, rather than a passing stranger. Use this to your advantage by incorporating new vocabulary in sentences you make. I often emphasize the importance of crafting your own “story script” as I have mentioned in this previous post. (a link to my Korean site) Writing your story script enables you to learn holistically, activating your memory and connecting old and new information into a cohesive masterpiece.
There are a few things we tend to remember a lot better than the others. They are:
- Things that we are familiar with
- Things that we are impressed with (anything with an element of surprise, uniqueness, shock, or humor)
- Things that changed us (positively or negatively)
So next time you pick up a vocabulary book, instead of flipping through pages of words, pick a few that you know you will use, and create your sentences based on your real life experience. Whenever I explain the meaning of a word to my Korean students, I often use Pororo (one of Korea’s most popular children’s cartoon show) as an example. Whenever I create sentence using Pororo as an example, I get a good laugh from the students. Also, they were more likely to recall the sentences accurately when they were asked later.
Create an example sentence based on what you already know and things that you personally care about.
I always try to get personal with my students. I figure out what they are going through in their lives, and then create sentences using new vocabulary based on what I know about them. Not only do students give me that look of an “a-ha!” moment, but they are also more likely to reproduce the same sentence in their conversation practice.
So here is the conclusion to my advice to learning new English vocabulary. Pick some. Create a story that’s personal to you. Tell it to someone.